A spear arced out of the sky and trembled to a halt in the woodwork by the wizard’s ear. He screamed briefly and scrambled up the ladder after the others.
Arrows whistled around them as they came out on to the narrow catwalk that led along the spine of the Potent Voyager. Twoflower led the way, jogging along with what Rincewind considered to be too much suppressed excitement.
Atop the centre of the ship was a large round bronze hatch with hasps around it. The troll and the tourist knelt down and started to work on them.
In the heart of the Potent Voyager fine sand had been trickling into a carefully designed cup for several hours. Now the cup was filled by exactly the right amount to dip down and upset a carefully-balanced weight. The weight swung away, pulling a pin from an intricate little mechanism. A chain began to move. There was a clonk…
“What was that?” said Rincewind urgently. He looked down.
The hail of arrows had stopped. The crowd of priests and soldiers were standing motionless, staring intently at the ship. A small worried man elbowed his way through them and started to shout something.
“What was what?” said Twoflower, busy with a wing-nut.
“I thought I heard something,” said Rincewind.
“Look,” he said, “we’ll threaten to damage the thing if they don’t let us go, right? That’s all we’re going to do, right?”
“Yah,” said Twoflower vaguely. He sat back on his heels. “That’s it,” he said. “It ought to lift off now.”
Several muscular men were swarming up the ladder to the ship. Rincewind recognized the two chelonauts among them. They were carrying swords.
“I-” he began.
The ship lurched. Then, with infinite slowness, it began to move along the rails.
In that moment of black horror Rincewind saw that Twoflower and the troll had managed to pull the hatch up. A metal ladder inside led into the cabin below. The troll disappeared.
“We’ve got to get off,” whispered Rincewind.
Twoflower looked at him, a strange mad smile on his face. “Stars,” said the tourist. “Worlds. The whole damn sky full of worlds. Places no-one will ever see. Except me.” He stepped through the hatchway.
“You’re totally mad,” said Rincewind hoarsely, trying to keep his balance as the ship began to speed up. He turned as one of the chelonauts tried to leap the gap between the Voyager and the tower, landed on the curving flank of the ship, scrabbled for an instant for purchase, failed to find any, and dropped away with a shriek.
The Voyager was travelling quite fast now. Rincewind could see past Twoflower’s head to the sunlit cloud sea and the impossible Rimbow, floating tantalisingly beyond it, beckoning fools to venture too far…
He also saw a gang of men climbing desperately over the lower slopes of the launching ramp and manhandling a large baulk of timber on to the track, in a frantic attempt to derail the ship before it vanished over the Edge. The wheels slammed into it, but the only effect was to make the ship rock, Twoflower to lose his grip on the ladder and fall into the cabin, and the hatch to slam down with the horrible sound of a dozen fiddly little catches snapping into place. Rincewind dived forward and scrabbled at them, whimpering.
The cloud sea was much nearer now. The Edge itself, a rocky perimeter to the arena, was startlingly close.
Rincewind stood up. There was only one thing to do now, and he did it. He panicked blindly, just as the ship’s bogeys hit the little upgrade and flung it sparkling like a salmon, into the sky and over the Edge.
A few seconds later there was a thunder of little feet and the Luggage cleared the rim of the world, legs still pumping determinedly, and plunged down into the Universe.
Rincewind woke up and shivered. He was freezing cold.
So this is it, he thought. When you die you go to a cold, damp, misty freezing place. Hades, where the mournful spirits of the Dead troop forever across the sorrowful marshes, corpse-lights flickering fit fully in the encircling-hang on a minute…
Surely Hades wasn’t this uncomfortable? And he was very uncomfortable indeed. His back ached where a branch was pressing into it, his legs and arms hurt where the twigs had lacerated them and, judging by the way his head was feeling, something hard had recently hit it. If this was Hades it sure was hell-hang on a minute…
Tree. He concentrated on the word that floated up from his mind, although the buzzing in his ears and the flashing lights in front of his eyes made this an unexpected achievement. Tree. Wooden thing. That was it. Branches and twigs and things. And Rincewind, lying in it. Tree. Dripping wet. Cold white cloud all around. Underneath, too. Now that was odd.
He was alive and lying covered in bruises in a small thorn tree that was growing in a crevice in a rock that projected out of the foaming white wall that was the Rimfall. The realization hit him in much the same way as an icy hammer. He shuddered. The tree gave a warning creak.
Something blue and blurred shot past him, dipped briefly into the thundering waters, and whirred back and settled on a branch near Rincewind’s head. It was a small bird with a tuft of blue and green feathers. It swallowed the little silver fish that it had snatched from the Fall and eyed him curiously.
Rincewind became aware that there were lots of similar birds around.
They hovered, darted and swooped easily across the face of the water, and every so often one would raise an extra plume of spray as it stole another doomed morsel from the waterfall. Several of them were perching in the tree. They were as iridescent as jewels. Rincewind was entranced.
He was in fact the first man ever to see the rimfishers, the tiny creatures who had long ago evolved a lifestyle quite unique even for the Disc. long before the Krullians had built the Circumfence the rimfishers had devised their own efficient method of policing the edge of the world for a living.
They didn’t seem bothered about Rincewind. He had a brief but chilling vision of himself living the rest of his life out in this tree, subsisting on raw birds and such fish as he could snatch as they plummeted past.
The tree moved distinctly. Rincewind gave a whimper as he found himself sliding backwards, but managed to grab a branch. Only, sooner or later, he would fall asleep…
There was a subtle change of scene, a slight purplish tint to the sky. A tall, black-cloaked figure was standing on the air next to the tree. It had a scythe in one hand. Its face was hidden in the shadows of the hood.
I HAVE COME FOR THEE, said the invisible mouth, in tones as heavy as a whale’s heartbeat.
The trunk of the tree gave another protesting creak, and a pebble bounced off Rincewind’s helmet as one root tore loose from the rock.
Death Himself always came in person to harvest the souls of wizards.
“What am I going to die of?” said Rincewind.
The tall figure hesitated.
PARDON? it said.
“Well, I haven’t broken anything, and I haven’t drowned, so what am I about to die of? You can’t just be killed by Death; there has to be a reason,” said Rincewind.
To his utter amazement he didn’t feel terrified any more. For about the first time in his life he wasn’t frightened. Pity the experience didn’t look like lasting for long.
Death appeared to reach a conclusion.
YOU COULD DIE OF TERROR, the hood intoned. The voice still had its graveyard ring, but there was a slight tremor of uncertainty.
“Won’t work,” said Rincewind smugly.
THERE DOESN’T HAVE TO BE A REASON, said Death, I CAN JUST KILL YOU.
“Hey, you can’t do that! It’d be murder!”
The cowled figure sighed and pulled back its hood. Instead of the grinning death’s head that Rincewind had been expecting he found himself looking up into the pale and slightly transparent face of a rather worried demon, of sorts.
“I’m making rather a mess of this, aren’t I?” it said wearily.
“You’re not Death! Who are you?” cried Rincewind.
“Death couldn’t come,” said the demon wretchedly. “There’s a big plague on in Pseudopolis. He had to go and stalk the streets. So he sent me.”
“No-one dies of scrofula! I’ve got rights. I’m a wizard!”
“All right, all right. This was going to be my big chance,” said Scrofula, “but look at it this way – if I hit you with this scythe you’ll be just as dead as you would be if Death had done it. Who’d know?”
“I’d know!” snapped Rincewind.
“You wouldn’t. You’d be dead,” said Scrofula logically.
“Piss off,” said Rincewind.
“That’s all very well,” said the demon, hefting the scythe, “but why not try to see things from my point of view? This means a lot to me, and you’ve got to admit that your life isn’t all that wonderful.
Reincarnation can only be an improvement- uh.”
His hand flew to his mouth but Rincewind was already pointing a trembling finger at him.
“Reincarnation!” he said excitedly. “So it is true what the mystics say!”
“I’m admitting nothing,” said Scrofula testily. “It was a slip of the tongue. Now-are you going to die willingly or not?”
“No,” said Rincewind.
“Please yourself,” replied the demon. He raised the scythe. It whistled down in quite a professional way, but Rincewind wasn’t there. He was in fact several metres below, and the distance was increasing all the time, because the branch had chosen that moment to snap and send him on his interrupted journey towards the interstellar gulf.
“Come back!” screamed the demon.
Rincewind didn’t answer. He was lying belly down in the rushing air, staring down into the clouds that even now were thinning.
Below, the whole Universe twinkled at Rincewind. There was Great A’Tuin, huge and ponderous and pocked with craters. There was the little Disc moon. There was a distant gleam that could only be the Potent Voyager. And there were all the stars, looking remarkably like powdered diamonds spilled on black velvet, the stars that lured and ultimately called the boldest towards them…
The whole of Creation was waiting for Rincewind to drop in. He did so. There didn’t seem to be any alternative.